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Microsoft and partners launch test of e-commerce directory

A joint effort by Ariba, IBM and the software giant to build an electronic Yellow Pages for online businesses moves forward with the launch of a test Web site.

A joint effort by Ariba, IBM and Microsoft to build a giant electronic Yellow Pages for online businesses moved forward Thursday with the launch of a test Web site.

The trio in September proposed a Web standard and a new initiative that lets businesses register in an online directory aimed at helping companies advertise their services in order to find each other to conduct Web transactions.

The project, which began with three-dozen supporters, has now signed on 130 companies, including Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Nortel Networks, Sun Microsystems, Andersen Consulting and Ford Motor.

Database giant Oracle, which historically has supported standards efforts, is the largest software maker absent from the project. A company representative on Thursday said Oracle is wary of any technology proposed by rival Microsoft, but it will support the effort if it ever becomes an industry standard.

The coalition of companies expects to propose a standard to an industry group later next year, a spokesman for the project said Thursday. The proposed standard will allow businesses to describe the services they offer and will allow those services to be located by other businesses using the online directory.

Analyst Mike Gilpin of Giga Information Group believes it's only a matter of time before Oracle supports the effort. Oracle has gone out of its way in the past to avoid using or endorsing any Microsoft technology but capitulated when it became absolutely necessary.

Oracle for years shunned the OLE DB standard that Microsoft created for accessing information in databases. Oracle supported the technology after every other database maker announced support for it.

"Oracle first thought it was the spawn of the devil," Gilpin said. "Oracle thought it was vastly inferior to their own technology. But it was embraced as an open way to access databases, and they ultimately supported it."

The public test version of the online directory is currently hosted on Microsoft's, IBM's and Ariba's Web sites and connected to each other. Businesses can register with the online directory by entering any of the three company's Web sites.

The final version of the directory--officially called the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration Business Registry--is expected to be completed by early next year, the project's representative said. Other companies supporting the effort are expected to host the registry in the future, the representative said.

Other companies supporting the effort include Compaq Computer, Commerce One, Loudcloud, Merrill Lynch and Vitria.